What Is the "Us Against Them" Mentality?

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on February 25, 2024
3 min read

If you’ve ever been met with a tough challenge or conflict, you may have felt an “us against them” mentality. Whatever the source of the stress, it causes you to become defensive.

You instantly feel the need to build yourself up by identifying ways you’re better than what you’re up against. This can lead to a deep-down bias against others. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can overcome the “us against them” mentality and retrain your brain to approach social situations and conflict in a more positive way.

We tend to naturally group people into categories. When you do this, it helps your brain process where and how you fit into varying social situations. Ways we group people include:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Location
  • Social class

The ways we use “us against them”. Any time you feel threatened by something, you want to feel superior, stronger, and better than what you are up against. You want to feel better about yourself. Categorizing people isn’t necessarily a bad thing until you use these categories to exclude people – even without meaning to.

You place yourself in one group and your perceived “enemy” in an alternate group. Then you tell yourself that the group you’re in is better and the “other” group is the one causing problems.

For example, the “us against them” mentality can take on a role in work life. You may feel like it’s us against them when it comes to regular employees versus management. You see the two categories of employees as rivals instead of teammates.

Downfalls of us against them. The “us against them” mentality is dangerous. You subconsciously use this thought pattern to help yourself feel more at ease. But it often causes you to make decisions based on subconscious discrimination instead of leaving room for understanding and growth. Once you subconsciously figure out who is in “your” group, you tend to be more forgiving of those people.

Categorization. The first way you take on an “us against them” mentality is to categorize people around you. It helps you to understand your social surroundings and where you stand in any given situation. It is useful to group people by their roles in your life, so you know how to interact and respond to them.

Social identification. Since you can sort people in many different ways, it’s possible to belong to different categories of people. It helps you have a sense of belonging when you feel like you fit into a particular group.

Once you decide what a category of people acts like, you begin to take on those qualities. For example, if you get a promotion at work from being a worker to a manager, you may begin to act like a manager. You take on qualities that you perceive of this category of people so that you fit in.

Social comparison. Once you know where you fit in, you begin to identify those who don’t fit in with you. You may subconsciously see your group as better than any other group without even realizing it.

Blur the lines. One way we can overcome sorting people into rigid groups is to see where we fit into multiple categories. For example, when it comes to race, biracial friends and family help us to bridge the gap between what we perceive to be two separate categories.

Look for similarities. When you meet someone that you may tend to categorize as being different than you, identify ways that you’re the same. This helps you build connections by establishing warmth and empathy. Over time, you can shift your mindset to seek things in common instead of differences.

Get in tune with yourself. As you work to reset how you view yourself and others, it is important to focus on your values. Biases can be built into how we approach social situations, but you can overcome them. How can you act on your desire to be caring, kind, and supportive of those around you?

Be intentional. It takes conscious effort to overcome the “us against them” mentality. If there is someone in your life who falls into a category of people who tend to be discriminated against, be sure to include them. Empower your friends, family, and coworkers and show them that you reject excluding people based on categories.